Lawsuit dropped over Indiana abortion ultrasound mandate

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Planned Parenthood has decided to drop its federal lawsuit challenging an Indiana law that will require women to undergo an ultrasound at least 18 hours before having an abortion.

The law was passed in 2016 by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence, but had been blocked since a federal judge’s ruling in 2017 . Although that ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court, the U.S. Supreme Court in July sent the Indiana lawsuit back to the appeals court for a fresh review following a decision in a Louisiana case that abortion rights advocates worried signaled a greater willingness by the justices to uphold state restrictions.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky and the state said in a Wednesday court filing they agreed the injunction blocking the law should end on Jan. 1, citing “events” over the past three years and the addition of a new ultrasound machine at Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Fort Wayne.

The two sides asked U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt to then dismiss the lawsuit.

Republican state Attorney General Curtis Hill on Thursday described the agreement as a victory and said “Planned Parenthood has conceded defeat.”

Hill said the date for ending the injunction was set to give Planned Parenthood time to train staff members at its Fort Wayne clinic to operate ultrasound equipment.

“The concession makes clear that if anything threatened women’s ability to obtain abortions, it was Planned Parenthood’s own business decisions, not the challenged law — an argument that the State made all along,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

While abortion rights supporters praised Chief Justice John Roberts vote in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision for striking down Louisiana’s requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, they also worried that language in his opinion could be used to justify other abortion restrictions.

Neither Planned Parenthood nor the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represented Planned Parenthood in the lawsuit, commented on any effect that ruling might have had on their decision to end the court challenge.

Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said in a statement that the group decided to drop its lawsuit after determining it could comply with what she called a “medically unnecessary law” without providing fewer patient services.

“To be clear, the 18-hour ultrasound requirement has nothing to do with patient safety, and is only meant to add another barrier in accessing abortion care,” Charbonneau said.

Planned Parenthood argued that the state law was unconstitutional and would prevent some women from getting abortions.

Pratt ruled that the 18-hour waiting period “creates significant financial and other burdens” on Planned Parenthood and its patients, particularly low-income women who face lengthy travel to clinics with the ultrasound equipment. The judge found that Indiana had presented “no compelling evidence” to support its contention that the requirement would further its stated interest of convincing women not to have an abortion.

Several other abortion restrictions adopted by Indiana lawmakers have been blocked by court challenges in recent years.

A federal judge last month struck down a law that aimed to require reports from medical providers to the state if they treat women for complications arising from abortions.

That came after another judge last year blocked the state’s ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure that the legislation called “dismemberment abortion.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last year also rejected Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked the state’s ban on abortion based on gender, race or disability. However, it upheld a portion of the 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.

Hill made his support for tough anti-abortion laws a key part of his reelection campaign, but he lost his bid for the Republican attorney general nomination in July following a monthlong suspension of his law license over allegations that he groped a state lawmaker and three other women during a 2018 party.